The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families


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Umm Isam

Umm Isam is a writer and human resource trainer, based in Karachi.

Latest posts by Umm Isam (see all)

Jan 11 - Seven habits families

‘Love’ is a Verb

A man once complained: “I am really worried about my marriage. My wife and I don’t have the same feelings for each other that we used to have. I guess we just don’t love each other any more. What can I do?”

His friend replied: “Love her.”

The man answered: “I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”

“My friend, love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of that verb. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

Develop habit # 1: Be proactive. Be the first one to bring about a positive change in a relationship or situation.

I am a hardworking man!

I came home from work one day, and my three-year-old son Brenton met me at the door. He beamed with pride: “Dad, I am a hardworking man!”

I later found out that while my wife was downstairs, Brenton had emptied a jug of water from the fridge on the floor. My wife initially thought of yelling and spanking him. However, she controlled her anger and asked patiently: “Brenton, what were you trying to do?”

Brenton informed his mother that he was trying to help her out by washing the dishes and he had tried to take water from the fridge because he could not reach the sink.

My wife gently explained to him that he could call her for help and she would bring him a chair to stand on and do the dishes in the sink. Now, they could clean up the mess together. Brenton thought that was a fantastic idea and helped his mom mop up the wet floor.

It took her about ten minutes to clean up the mess. Had she been reactive, it would still have taken her ten minutes to clean up the mess. But that evening my son would have met me with the expression: “Daddy, I am a bad boy!”

Develop habit # 2: Begin with the end in mind. Develop a family mission statement. It means a combined, unified expression from all family members of what the family is all about, what family members want to do and be, and the principles that will guide the family, Insha’Allah.

The wrong wall

A man in his late fifties was in line for the presidency of his company. However, he was not sure if he really was happy with it.

“I missed the childhood of my kids. When I couldn’t provide them with my time, I bought them off by giving them things, but the real bonding never took place. Today, my grown-up married kids feel that enormous loss,” he confessed.

“Now, I am really excited about a family project we have thought out together. I call it building the three-generation home that I am having constructed right on the beach. This is more important for me.

Notice, how for many years, ‘family’ was not this man’s first priority. But he eventually realized that his professional role is temporary. When he retires, the company will go on. But his role in the family will never end. He will never be replaced.

Develop habit # 3: Put first things first. Prioritize your family in today’s turbulent world.

Every time you win, I lose

A father shared an incident about his two sons, aged twelve and ten, who frequently squabbled. This was negatively impacting the whole family atmosphere. During a much-awaited vacation, heated arguments and conflicts arose again.

The father made both his sons face each other. The older son spoke up addressing the younger one: “I hate this vacation, and I want to go home just to get away from you.”

The younger boy, feeling hurt, blinked away sudden tears. With his head hung low, he asked quietly: “Why?

The older retorted with certainty: “Because you annoy me by your remarks, and I don’t want to be around you.

The younger one sighed: “I just do that because every time we play a game, you always win.

“Well, sure I win,” the older boy quickly replied. “I’m better than you.”

With that the little boy could hardly speak. Then from the depths of his heart he said: “Yeah, but every time you win, I lose. And I just can’t stand to lose all the time. So I annoy you… I don’t want you to go home. I like being with you. But I don’t want to lose all the time.”

These tearful words reached the heart of the older brother and his tone softened a bit: “Okay, okay, I won’t go home. But will you, please, stop saying the stupid things you say and do?”

“Okay,” nodded the younger boy. “And will you, please, stop feeling that you always have to win?”

That candid heart-to-heart saved the vacation. It didn’t make things perfect but it made them tolerable. The older boy never forgot his little brother’s words: “I just can’t stand to lose all the time.” The father, who was observing the two silently, surely never did.

Develop habit # 4: Think ’win-win’. Have shared expectations and commitments regarding desired results and guidelines. Remember, no one likes to lose, especially in close family relationships. But we typically approach situations with a win-lose mindset, without even realizing it hurts our loved ones.

Frigidaire only!

Stephen Covey and his wife Sandra, in spite of a stable and great marital relationship, almost always disagreed over the choice of electrical appliances for their home. Sandra would insist on buying the Frigidaire brand, regardless of how tight their budget was. Stephen would feel that this was illogical and irrational.

One day, when they had to decide what appliance to buy, Sandra opened up: “As a young girl, I saw my father support our family under great financial pressure… He was a high school history teacher and coach for years. But to make both ends meet, he went into the appliance business… One of the main brands that his store carried was Frigidaire.”

“At night, when he came home exhausted from work, he would lie down on a couch. I would rub his feet and sing to him. This was a time we both enjoyed for many years. It

was special, because during these moments, my father would talk about his worries and concerns. He also greatly appreciated Frigidaire.”

“…During a serious economic downturn, when he faced crucial financial difficulties, the only thing that enabled him to stay in business was that Frigidaire financed his inventory.”

It dawned on Stephen then that Frigidaire was not just an appliance to Sandra. It was a balm for her painful memories of the past that she had shared with her father. Naturally, she felt a deep loyalty towards it, as it had saved her family in troubling times. Stephen had never tried to understand that. He hugged her quietly and felt his own tears. The choice was made. It would be Frigidaire only!

Develop habit # 5: Seek first to understand… then to be understood. Make it safe for others to talk and share their concerns with you naturally and spontaneously. Listen and empathize, because one of the deepest hungers of the human heart is to be understood.

My daughter is not like me

A woman shared that when she was eleven years old, her parents gifted her a beautiful edition of a great classic. She read through it lovingly, and when she turned to the last page, she wept. She had literally lived through it. Carefully, she preserved it and passed it to her daughter Cathy as a treasured heritage and imagined her to appreciate it as much as she had. After struggling with two chapters, Cathy put it on her shelf, where the book sat forlorn for months. The mother was deeply disappointed.

She would confide in her husband that she was overwhelmed by Cathy’s bubbly nature, endless sense of humour, zest for life and an over-all happy state of mind. The mother’s unspoken disapproval was communicated to the daughter occasionally in different ways. This hurt the child’s feelings, too.

One morning, when the mother was glancing through her old photographs, she saw one of her own and her sister’s linking hands together. She thought of all the great times they had spent together. Yet, they were so different. Then, suddenly, as if a bolt of lightening hit her, she realized that it wasn’t essential to be alike to be good friends at all. All that was needed was to appreciate the differences, put them in good use and celebrate them eventually! How could she impose her personality on her daughter? It would be cruel to expect her to become a carbon copy of herself. What about her individuality?

This reawakening saved their relationship. From that day onwards, she began to see her daughter in a new light. Their relationship took on a whole new dimension of richness and joy.

Develop habit # 6: Synergize. The term ‘synergy’ means that the result of two or more people produces together more than the sum of what they could produce separately (one plus one equals three or more). Differences are part of a greater whole. Learn to put them together and search for new solutions.

You stopped to rest every hour!

A man wanted to cut down a tree. He sawed through its huge, thick tree trunk. He kept at it all day long. When he was half way through, he paused for a minute to catch his breath.

He looked up and saw another person a few yards away, who had also been sawing a tree. He couldn’t believe his eyes! That person had sawed almost completely through the tree trunk! He had started at about the same time the first person and his tree was about the same size as the first man’s, but the second man stopped to rest every hour or so, while the first man kept going.

The first man asked incredulously: “How in the world have you gotten so much more done than I have? You didn’t even work non-stop like I did! In fact, you stopped to rest every hour.” The second man smiled and replied: “Yes, you saw me stop every hour to rest, but what you didn’t see was that every time I rested, I also sharpened the saw!”

Develop habit # 7: Sharpen the saw. We and our relationships both need maintenance. If we neglect them, they begin to deteriorate. To achieve that, we should refresh and re-energize ourselves. We can pray together, discuss the inspiring lives of our prophets, organize health and exercise schedules, plan family outings and fun time, etc.

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